You don’t have to live in the sunshine state to pick a fresh lemon from your very own lemon tree. Container citrus trees are a unique ornamental feature for your interior and outdoor living spaces, and are fairly easy to care for. Another bonus is when a citrus plant flowers, it exudes a sweet perfumed fragrance. And of course you will reap the rewards of delicious, fresh fruit that you’ve grown yourself.
Regardless of where you live, you can grow potted lemons, oranges, tangerines, limes, kumquats, and grapefruit. When growing citrus outside the citrus belt, the trees will need to be kept indoors in the winter, or when temperatures drop into the 30s (F) or below. During the warm months of the year, potted citrus trees can be moved to an outdoor deck or patio.
Where to Purchase Citrus Trees
Citrus is raised commercially in the states of Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida. There are many garden nurseries that sell live trees in these states. Citrus stands and centers that sell bags of fresh fruit often have potted citrus plants for sale. Some states such as Florida prohibit the export of live citrus trees out of state, so be sure to check state agricultural regulations before attempting to transport a citrus plant out of its native state.
Check your local garden center for dwarf varieties suitable for containers.If you can’t find citrus plants locally, here are two fruit tree and garden nurseries that raise potted citrus plants, and ship them. You can order online, by telephone, or pick-up at their location.
Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA – (434)361-9134
Logee’s Tropical Plants in Danielson, CT – (888)330-8038
Selecting Citrus Trees
If growing potted citrus is a new venture, do your research. Visit a citrus nursery website, such as the two mentioned above, for helpful advice on selecting cultivars, containers, and plant care. The book, Growing Tasty Tropical Plants In Any Home, Anywhere by Laurelynn and Byron Martin, owners of Logee’s Tropical Plants, is an informative guide to growing a variety of edible citrus and tropical plants in containers. In their book, the Martins state, “The ‘Meyer’ lemon is a great choice for first-time container gardeners and for any gardener who wants a gardening project that will provide results quickly and reliably.”
Although all citrus trees can be grown in containers, experts note that dwarf varieties have a longer life span. There are also self-fruitful varieties available, which will eliminate the need to pollinate by hand when the plant is housed indoors.
Choosing A Container
Once you’ve decided which fruiting plant to grow, choosing the right container is next. The size of the pot will control the size that the plant will reach in maturity. Plants given ample space in the pot for their root system to expand freely will grow faster and larger.
“It’s best to increase pot size incrementally at each repotting,” say the Martins. “Choose a pot that is 2 to 4 inches bigger than the one the plant is currently growing in.” Most plants do best when the soil is allowed to dry between watering. Check to ensure that the pot — plastic, terra-cotta or unglazed clay — has adequate drainage holes in the bottom. Although cement and wood half-barrels can be used, these containers are heavy and difficult to move. Self-watering pots aren’t the best choice for citrus as any water standing in the reservoir will wick into the soil. When this occurs, the soil may become soggy, and more susceptible to damage or disease.
Potting the Tree
- Add a well-draining potting mix to your larger container, filling it about one-eighth to one-sixth full.
- Place the plant on its side and gently remove it from the nursery container to avoid root damage.
- Put the plant on top of the potting mix in the center of the pot. Add more potting mix to the container, leaving one-half-inch empty space at the rim. Press the soil with your hands to ensure that the plant sits firm and upright. The plant roots should sit just below the surface of the soil. The crown should sit just above the soil. Water the plant well.
Watering and Fertilizing
It is better to give citrus plants a deep, infrequent watering instead of frequent shallow watering. Touch the surface of the soil. If it feels moist, don’t water. If the surface is dry, poke your finger into the soil. If it is dry an inch below the surface, water well. Generally, watering twice a week is adequate. Cool winter conditions will necessitate less frequent watering, than hot summer conditions.
Fertilize with a citrus plant food in spring as instructed on the label or follow the plant nursery recommendations.
As stated early on, move the potted citrus indoors when temperatures dip into the 30º F mark. In spring, plants should be slowly transitioned from an indoor to outdoor environment. In the fall the transition will be from outdoors to indoors. In the spring and fall, to help the plant adjust to a change of environment, place the trees outdoors during the warmer day temperatures and move back inside at night, for about one week. When wintering a citrus plant indoors, place it in a sunny room preferably near a south-facing window. Mist the leaves once or twice a week, or use a humidifier in the room during winter.
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Deborah Tukua is a natural living, healthy lifestyle writer and author of 7 non-fiction books, including Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. She has been a writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004.